Uni, more commonly known as sea urchin, is a delicacy that has won the hearts of many across the globe. This mesmerizing marine treasure, with its luxurious taste and velvety texture, has a lot more to offer than meets the eye.
What is Uni?
Uni refers to the edible part of the sea urchin. These fascinating creatures move along the seabed, nourishing themselves on seaweeds like kelp and wakame. They rely on their fluid-filled tube feet for movement, respiration, and excretion. The protective hard shell encrusted with numerous spines gives the sea urchin a resemblance to a hedgehog, lending its English name.
Unpacking the Inside Story
Internally, the sea urchin has a digestive tract and gonads. The most coveted part, which we lovingly know as "Uni," comes from these gonads. A healthy, well-fed Uni will be packed with these gonads, ensuring a delightful eating experience.
Journey Through Japanese Uni Varieties
Many Uni species grace our seas, but only a select few make it to our plates in Japan. Here's a quick rundown:
1. Murasaki Uni The quintessential image of Uni. Pale yellow with a hint of white, this Uni delivers a refreshing oceanic sweetness.
2. Bafun Uni Found across Japan, barring Hokkaido, this Uni is recognized by its vibrant yellow color and unforgettable velvety sweetness.
3. Ezo Bafun Uni Exclusive to Hokkaido, this Uni variety is larger than Bafun Uni and tempts with its orange-hued roe, earning it the title of "finest Uni."
4. Kitamurasaki Uni Mainly from Hokkaido and Tohoku, it's adored for its subtle sweetness and creamy texture.
5. Red Uni Dubbed the "phantom Uni" because of its rarity, this Uni variety from Kyushu boasts an intense sweetness and deep yellowish-red color.
Tuning into Uni's Seasonality
Diverse Uni types and peak seasons change based on their region of origin:
Hokkaido: The hub of Uni production. While fishing is year-round, regulations are in place to protect the resource.
Tohoku Best known for its Kiramurasaki Uni and Ezo Bafun Uni, available mainly from April to August.
Kyushu Kiramurasaki Uni and the rare Red Uni have their prime seasons from April to October.
Selecting the Best Uni
For a gratifying Uni experience:
Observe the Color & Shape Fresh Uni usually has a vibrant golden hue and pleasing form.
Alum Free Uni: Alum can reduce the natural flavors. Instead, opt for saltwater-preserved Uni.
With its rich and deep umami, in-season Uni offers a taste experience like no other. The diverse varieties provide an exciting journey of flavor exploration. By understanding the uniqueness of each variety and its peak season, you can relish the true essence of this maritime gem. Enjoy the journey of exploring your favorite Uni!